If you are reading this blog, you are a human. That is pretty much guaranteed! And as a handler of detection dogs (either sport other reason), you are probably pretty enamored with the dog’s natural searching equipment. The dog’s ability to follow plumes of odor through the air and to pinpoint the origin of the odor, sometimes in seconds, has to be one be the greatest wonders in the world. If you are reading this, you probably agree!
To us, the wind can be scary and can seem to be another complication in being able to handle our dogs. The experienced handlers are always repeating the saying, “The wind is your friend”. But I have to tell you, even the most experienced handlers may SAY that, but deep down inside, it scares us too!
Today I did an experiment to show how swirling odor can work to make a setup easier than it looks BECAUSE of the wind!
I pulled my large white van up to within 18 inches of my minivan and set a hide on the white van’s license plate. I added flagging tape as a visual. The wind was blowing generally from the back of the white van, parallel with the setup, towards the front of the minivan. The start line is on the upwind side (the back end of the white van). Looks tough huh? It wasn’t… and I’ll explain why!
Before we get into the setup, let’s briefly cover some basics of air movement driven by the Gas Laws.
I’m not going to bore you with equations today but if we think about air movement in simple, logical ways, the mystical aspect of this search will melt away.
Think of wind as “pressure”. When you stand in high wind, you feel it right? Sometimes when we walk in high wind, we actually have to lean in. Think of the wind as “high pressure” (this is going to very layperson in its explanation… on purpose!). Now what happens when you are leaning into the wind and all of a sudden it goes away? You have to catch yourself from falling right?
This is what happens… the wind blows… and other air has to whoosh in and fill its place. If it didn’t you might suffocate after a breeze comes through! That new air whooshing in has to come from somewhere else. This is when air moves from an area of high pressure into an area of low pressure and it actually CAUSES SWIRLING!
The direction of the swirling can influence the dog’s search behavior!
When your dog reacts to odor, they will demonstrate a “Change of Behavior” or a “COB”. Basically, it is a fancy way of saying that the dog repositions themself to get more useful information about the hide. Sometimes we see a big COB when the dog has to make a large course correction. In the video, one of my dogs did this… Joey the Standard Poodle needed to make a large course correction because he wasn’t 100% focused (those pesky paving trucks drove by!).
When your dog is more focused, the COB might be less drastic because very little course correction is necessary. These COB’s will also describe and confirm what the air currents are doing.
Dogs will also investigate surfaces where the odor blows. Sometimes they do this because of their height in relation to the hide or they might work this way due to breed influence.
In this case, the swirling caused by the close proximity of the vehicles actually pulls the dog in!
We can verify what is happening by watching different dogs solve the same problem
In this case, I’m really lucky and I have 5 dogs… and they all search very differently! I have dogs ranging from 11 months old, who is getting ready to trial, to a 4 year old who is getting close to her Elite Champion title from the National Association of Canine Scent Work, to a nearly 14 year old, low drive dog who is recently retired from NW3 competition (and 2 more dogs in between!). And they ALL WORKED IT THE SAME WAY.
It’s amazing how easy that search looked! Did it surprise you?
In the end, understanding air flow is part Science, part Observation… ultimately if you approach searching with wonder and curiosity, you will learn much, much more. If you are a student of air flow, you will be able to understand your dog and the mystical secrets of sourcing will start to reveal themselves…
Happy Sniffing and Happy Observing!